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Oketz is the IDFs independent K9 special forces unit. The unit specializes in training and handling dogs for counter-terrorism, search and rescue, as well as tracking and detecting explosive devices. The word Oketz in hebrew means sting.
Oketz operators are assigned to other units when they are in need of their special skills. These also include extraction of terrorists from fortified buildings, detecting infiltrations on Israel's borders and assisting in search and rescue missions.
Oketz is one of the only IDF special forces ground units in which women are eligible to serve.
Their preferred dog species is the Belgian Shepherd. They are large enough to effectively attack an enemy while still being small enough to be picked up by their handler. They are man’s best friend and most loyal companion. They will protect their handlers at all cost.
Oketz was established in 1939 as part of the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state paramilitary. They used dogs to provide perimeter security for Jewish villages that were under threat from their Arab neighbors. The unit was later disbanded in 1954, after the state of Israel's establishment, and was reincarnated 20 years later, following a wave of terror attacks that hit Israel in the early 1970s.
This decision was triggered by the terror attack known as the Ma'alot massacre. In 1974, 3 armed Palestinian terrorist infiltrated into Israel from Lebanon and entered Netiv Meir Elementary School in Maalot, taking over 100 children hostage. During a botched rescue attempt, the terrorist killed 25 of the hostages, including 22 children. In the aftermath of the attack, the IDF realized that they needed to improve and expand on their counter terrorism abilities. Hence, the 2nd incarnation of Oketz was born.
The relationship between a soldier and his dog is very important during military operations and are an integral part of the unit's characteristics. Recruits must undergo an intensive 10-month training period before being assigned their dog. Courses include: Counter-terrorisim, parachuting, navigation, reconnaissance, camouflage, special weapons training, close quarters combat, krav-maga and urban warfare. After the 10 month period, the soldier and his dog undergo eight months of training together until they are operational. The assigned dog will be with his handler for the remainder of his military service and in some cases the IDF lets the handler keep his dog after discharge from the military.
Oketz has participated in almost all of Israel's major conflicts and wars in the past 40 years. Their dogs have saved countless lives of soldiers, as they are almost always the first ones to go into a house to extract terrorists or detect and locate explosive devices.
Oketz played a major role In Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas in Gaza. In the operation, Oketz operators were distributed amongst special operations units and infantry units to assist them in detecting explosives, finding terror tunnels and extracting terrorists from fortified buildings. In one case, an Oketz operator was assigned to Sayeret Rimon, a special forces unit operating in the southern region of the Gaza strip. During the operation, Rimon soldiers were tasked with clearing a building that served as a Hamas headquarters. Initially, the unit commander felt that they did not need the K9 operator to assist them with their mission. However, the Oketz handler insisted, and convinced the unit to let him and his dog go in first. The handler released his dog into the building to scan for IEDs. As the dog was carrying out his search he ran over a tripwire and triggered an explosive device. The dog was instantly killed and the Oketz operator was injured. If the unit would have gone in without the dog, they would have all been killed.
In another instance. An Oketz operator was assigned to Sayeret Maglan who were operating in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. One night during the operation a terrorist opened fire on the unit from a house. The unit was pinned down and a multiple soldiers were injured. Under heavy fire, the Oketz operator sent his dog into the house to take out the terrorist. The dog managed to attack the terrorist giving the operators a chance to storm the building and eliminate the threat. The dog sustained 2 bullet wounds and was evacuated to the hospital. A few months later the heroic dog made a full recovery.
The Oketz unit continues to train every day, preparing for any situation that might require their expertise. When they are not training, they are assisting other special forces units, carrying out high-risk missions. Israel's enemies should beware the 'sting' of Oketz. The soldier's 'best friend' is always watchful and ready to leap into action.